Dr. Kimberly M. Lymore is African American, Roman Catholic, and a lay leader in Chicago’s world-renowned St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church. Her reflection is a fitting closing piece to this month’s focus on Black History, covering the Black Roman Catholic community and their response to the inspiration and controversy of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States – as well her feelings on Catholic Social Teachings and the importance of the laity. Read, enjoy, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was both exciting and disappointing. It was exciting because Pope Francis has infused not just Roman Catholics, but everyone in the country with a renewed perspective on what it means to be Christian for such a time as this. But it is also disappointing because it seems as if women and people of color are still treated as second-class citizens within this institution we call “the church.”
Pope Francis spoke truth to power at his historic address to Congress. We Roman Catholics are generally known for our nearsightedness, of often focusing on two issues: abortion and same-sex marriage. However, Pope Francis barely referenced these issues – instead speaking on immigration, abolishing the death penalty, racial injustice, the arms trade, poverty, women and the laity, and caring for the environment (the focus of his most current encyclical, Laudato Si).
Pope Francis also brought the best kept secrets of Catholicism to life: the Catholic Social Teachings. Catholic Social Teachings consist of encyclicals written by popes and apostolic letters written by bishops that, throughout history, have addressed social concerns like human dignity, work, family, economic equity, politics, solidarity, and environmental issues.
Throughout all of Pope Francis’ talks in the United States he constantly reiterated the need to treat everyone with dignity – be they the immigrant, the homeless, the prisoner, the divorced, or the victims of sexual abuse. He forcefully declared that the dignity of human life runs from conception to the grave and called for the abolition of the death penalty.
The Pope called for solidarity among the wealthy and the poor. He spoke to “the haves,” saying that their wealth should be shared and geared toward creating an environment of common good where everyone flourishes. Those that have the ability to create jobs should do so in order to assist in bringing about economic justice for those who are in poverty.
This radical pontiff – who wears Payless instead of Prada, who shuns limos to ride in a Fiat, whom many devote Catholics question if he is even Catholic – reminds us of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Gospel that calls us to feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, to clothe and shelter the homeless.
Pope Francis prayed and ate with the homeless, posed for selfies, blessed babies and physically-challenged children, and he embraced the prisoner. All of these actions gave a lot of hope to a lot of people. Francis keeps showing us what discipleship looks likes in these times when the Gospel has been perverted into a very insular and internal way of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Though I cannot deny that the coverage of his visit was a bit obsessive, it was a breath of fresh air from the media coverage on Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Yet after all the coverage (which I admit I did not watch in its entirety) the lack of diversity and eurocentrism among the participants (lectors, priests, bishops, etc.) and the celebrants present at each mass – and even the way in which the masses were celebrated – was brought to my attention through various Facebook posts and commentary. It was also brought up that the mainstream media sought out white males to give their commentary on the Pope’s visit – with the lone exception of Michael Steele, who added no value.
While Pope Francis mentioned the plight of immigrants he never specifically mentioned anything about Black and Native American Catholics. Maybe he is not aware that in most dioceses in the United States, and especially in Chicago, they are closing predominately Black Churches because there are not enough people in the pews to financially sustain the buildings and operations of a church – this is despite the fact that, historically, Black Catholics have a higher rate of giving per capita than other Catholics. Maybe his handlers, who are white male priests, have not even discussed the vital role of Black Catholics in the United States and how they contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our church.
After having these alleged faux pas of the media called-out, Dr. C. Vanessa White, an Assitant Professor of Spirituality and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and past convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS), requested those Black Catholic Theologians to share their interviews through the BCTS listserv. Black Catholic theologians began to send in links of their interviews (see below). As for the role of women in the church, Pope Francis mentioned the important contributions of women in the life of the church. But the old adage still applies, “actions speak louder than words.”
Until the church makes significant advances in their treatment of women and make serious efforts to include women at the decision making table, anything Pope Francis has said or will say are only words in the atmosphere with no impact.
In conclusion, I admire Pope Francis for his approachability and his willingness to not only speak truth to power but also to hold his bishops accountable as he pushes to implement the vision and mission that God has given him as the Chief Shepherd. Likewise, I can truly say that I am proud to be a black lay woman working in the Roman Catholic Church – despite its shortcomings. After-all, what denomination doesn’t have issues? We are all working to fulfill the purpose and destiny that God has put in us. There are too many other important issues that our congregants are facing and the church needs to step up and be the light in the darkness of the world. While a visit from the Pope is nice, like the songwriter penned, “on Christ the solid rock I stand…”
Since 1983, Kimberly Lymore has been a member of The Faith Community of St. Sabina, which is known for its dynamic worship and social activism. In 2000, Kimberly decided to leave Corporate America and pursue full-time ministry. On September 1, 2000 she became the full-time Pastoral Associate at The Faith Community of St. Sabina. She is also team leader for the Worship & Praise Ministry (formerly, Liturgy Committee) and Eucharistic Ministers. Kimberly is also on the preaching staff for the 8:30 service. Kimberly is responsible for all the sacramental preparation of Sunday School children and Adults and all technology for the church. She is involved in several women’s ministries, National Consortium of Black Women in Ministry and Women in Urban Ministry. Kimberly received her Masters in Divinity with a concentration in Word and Worship in June of 2003 from Catholic Theological Union. In May of 2009 she received her Doctor of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. Her thesis article was titled, “God Doesn’t Tilt: Making the Connection Between Worship and Justice.”
Interview with Bishop Fabre, Marc Morial and Rev. Dr. Maurice Nutt, by Aaron Morrison, Diversity and Civil Rights reporter for the International Business Times, a sister company of Newsweek.
Roland Martin devoted a substantial portion of his morning news program to a Black Catholic perspective on Pope Francis’ visit. Among those he interviewed were Rev. Dr. Bryan Massingale, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and Rev. George Clements.
Article about Sister Lynn Marie Ralph, S.B.S. and how she and other women religious were literally moved back in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to make room for the clergy while awaiting Pope Francis.